Call him a relic, call him what you will, but Bob Seger can still pack them in. The classic Detroit rocker has been recording and touring for more than 50 years and is currently on his last trek around the globe as part of a farewell tour. Mere months from his 74th birthday, Seger is making sure everyone who attends one of his shows on this final go-round gets their money’s worth. And by the sound of Friday night’s elated, jam-packed Amalie Arena crowd, everyone who filled every possible seat in the hockey arena was more than satisfied with his fiery, two-hour rock show.
With a mop of messy white hair, black T-shirt and loose jeans, Seger resembled just about every other elder in the crowd when he took the stage. Opening the show with one of his most uncharacteristic songs (the dance-pop hit “Shakedown”) might’ve seemed like a risky move, but it somehow worked in getting every single patron in the house up and on their feet.
Seger’s husky, soulful voice is still in fine shape, but it was mixed a little too low and drowned out by his enormous and superb band on “Shakedown.” The problem, however, was quickly rectified.
By song two, 1978’s R&B-influenced “Still the Same,” Seger’s trademark powerhouse, gravel-encrusted croon was in fighting shape. Gleefully pumping his fists in the air and making his way to each side of the large stage, it was as if Seger knew he’d instantly locked into his groove. He didn’t let go of that mastery throughout the sweaty, no-nonsense whale of a show. By the time he unleashed an edgy, thunderous take on “Fire Down Below,” Seger — bathed in dramatic red spotlights that engulfed the stage — made it obvious that his self-imposed retirement from touring life would mark a major void among the veterans that still take their rock and roll shows on the road.
Appealing to fans of all ages and backgrounds, Seger cleverly and carefully did his best to throw in something for everyone, regardless of their level of fandom. Fronting a collection of musicians that included a four-piece horn section, a piano player and an organ player, three backup singers and longtime sax master Alto Reed, Seger benefitted from the full, tight sounds the skilled band pumped out and he more than matched the band’s prowess.
Consistently pointing out rarely-played tunes and describing the length of time that’s passed since some of the songs were last played, Seger playfully engaged and thrilled a crowd with staples like “Old Time Rock and Roll” and “Against the Wind” plus unexpected nuggets like “Travelin’ Man” and “Her Strut.” A personal highlight came when Seger — in wax nostalgic mode — pointed out the impact that soul and R&B music had on him. He gave praise and props to underappreciated Memphis soul legend Willie Mitchell before launching into a superb version of a Mitchell’s “Come to Poppa,” which was originally tackled on Seger’s classic, 1976 album Night Moves.
The night's most touching moment, however, came when Seger tried his hand at covering Bob Dylan — a man Seger referred to as the “Mount Everest of songwriting.”
Seger dedicated Dylan’s poignant “Forever Young” to a longtime friend and collaborator — The Eagles’ late Glenn Frey — and tastefully beamed images of other recently deceased musicians on the jumbo screen that served as the stage backdrop. Photos of long lost greats like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chuck Berry and Leonard Cohen appeared on the massive screen to cheers and applause. The most heartfelt ovation came when photos of Florida’s pride and joy, Tom Petty, were shown. A classy touch that could have come across as maudlin and contrived instead carried genuine reverence and respect for so many musicians and artists that are no longer with us.
Insisting on introducing every member of the enormous band that backed him by name, Seger lovingly offered up praise and accolades for each band member. After that, the night took a major leap to the territory of mega-hits as Seger unleashed steady one-two punches of hits during the closing of the main set and throughout the night’s two encores.
Stellar readings of “Night Moves,” “Against the Wind” and “Hollywood Nights” sent the already wound-up crowd into a manic state and reminded everyone of the staggering number of hits that Seger has racked up throughout his long and storied career. Incorporating a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood throughout a highly-dedicated audience, the night’s closer, “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” seemed like a fitting final hoorah. The last song the stimulated audience will have to remember Seger by is this tribute to the enduring power of music and how aging should never diminish that mighty power. How fitting as well, on a personal level, that I’d run into an old friend I hadn’t seen in nearly two decades at the close of this fine show. I’d like to think Seger somehow had a hand in orchestrating this chance meeting.
It’s true: Rock and roll never forgets and, it’s safe to say that all of Seger’s dedicated fans won’t soon forget him thanks to this stunning final Tampa Bay appearance. He may be old-fashioned and he may be over the hill, but few rock like Bob Seger. His electric performances and his heartfelt take on his brand of roots rock will be sorely missed, but his enduring music will luckily live on forever.
Farewell, Bob Seger. And thanks for all the good times and the great songs. The road will miss you.
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